- Introduction to Focus:All Shades of Brown—Latinx Literature Today
After teaching on Thursdays, I swing by my neighborhood library. On the patron shelf under my name stands an array of multicolored, differently shaped spines with all variety of vertically scribed Hispanophone first and last names. These end up as teetertottering all over my house: novels, story and poetry collections, as well as comics by Chicanx, Nuyorican, Boricuan, Cubano, Dominican, Cubolivian, Mexistani, Blatinx, LusoLatinx, and Salvi-Guatemalan authors within arm's reach to feed the imagination and nourish the soul.
I should say, it's not that my library is some kind of Edenic repository of Latinx fiction. Actually, the library's "New Fiction" shelf rarely if ever has any Latinx titles. It's that the librarians are really good at getting books I sleuth out and want.
Our Latinx authors today are legion. Perhaps, it's that our word-of-mouth networks have increased infinitely with the internet, with authors finding readers and readers finding authors at the swipe of a screen and clickety-click of a keyboard. Perhaps, it's that there are simply more Latinx fictions seeing the light of day than yesteryear.
Back in the late 80s when I began to professionally feast on Latinx fiction, it seemed that there were only handfuls of authors. The usual suspects that come readily to mind include: Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chávez, Oscar "Zeta" Acosta, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Piri Thomas, Miguel Piñero, Nicholasa Mohr, Sandra María Esteves, Cristina García, Arturo Islas, Francisco Alarcón, Pat Mora, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Luis Valdez, Richard Rodriguez, Luis J. Rodriguez, Luis Alberto Urrea, Helena María Viramontes, Tomás Rivera. To find these and others was for me a scavenger hunt through UC Berkeley's lit. curricula and those cavernous, labyrinthine used bookstores scattered up and down Telegraph Ave.
No matter, today's multitude of Latinx authors stand on the backs of these veteranos and veteranas just mentioned, and others not mentioned. As Luis Urrea so eloquently sums up in the interview herein: "We are held up by those incredible early heroes that a lot of people aren't familiar with anymore: Rudy Anaya, Tomás Rivera, and others. Latinx authors today are demonstrating sophistication and a worldliness that's amazing." That is to say, Latinx authors today distill then reconstruct in awe-inspiring and infinitely nuanced ways the great complexity of being Latinx. They, too, use and reshape novel and poetic forms in deeply transformative ways, impacting American letters—and world literature generally. And they do so through a process of projection and impact. They reconstruct content from the building blocks of reality that make up the past and present—all while writing for Latinx readers who may or may not exist today—but who will certainly come to exist tomorrow.
Latinx creators today use a myriad of narrative and poetic shaping devices to reach this goal, especially applying these devices to the exploration of our shared Latinx experiences—or lifeworlds; what the Germans, notably Edmund Husserl, called the lebenswelt or the preconceptual experience of the world as shared by all of us in our particular circumstances in space and time. Each in their uniquely wondrous ways, build storyworlds grown from the metabolizing of multidirectional social, political, and cultural phenomena from across the Américas—and beyond.
Today's Latinx authors are living proof that there are no limits to Latinx lifeworld building. We see its dazzling results in the more self-reflexive, metafictional works of Junot Díaz, Giannina Braschi, Salvador Plascencia, Carmen Maria Machado, Rita Indiana, and Fernando Flores. We see it in the deeply burrowing, gritty realism of Valeria Luiselli,
Jaquira Díaz, Justin Torres, and Reyna Grande. We see it in the kinetic, gut-punching poetic lines and rhythms of Carlos Kelly, Jennifer Givhan, and Elizabeth Acevedo. We see it in the speculative worlds conjured up by Zoraida Córdova and Daniel José Older. We hear it in new and unexpected spaces like Dania Ramos and Michael Aquino's seventeen-episode podcast fiction, Timestorm. These and other Latinx creators powerfully remind that there must be total freedom for...